MADISON, Wis. – A 48-year stay in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association was on the line Saturday night as Minnesota Duluth fought for its life in the first round of the league playoffs.
UMD lost Friday’s opener in the best-of-three series and needed a victory at the Kohl Center to continue its season.
But from the start, this was not a night for the Bulldogs. Three first-period goals, two in 81 seconds in the first five minutes, led No. 14-ranked Wisconsin to a 4-1 victory before an announced crowd of 10,104. That puts the Badgers (19-12-7) in the WCHA Final Five quarterfinals Thursday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
UMD (14-19-5) fell behind 2-0 early and couldn’t find its game. After allowing three goals on six shots in the first eight minutes, starting goalie Aaron Crandall was replaced by freshman Matt McNeely.
“We were 10 times better than on Friday night. I don’t know if we weren’t ready Friday, but we were better (Saturday),” said UMD senior defenseman Drew Olson. “It was tough being down 2-0. That took the wind out of our sails right off the bat, but we didn’t give up and battled to the final minute.”
The Bulldogs, who joined the league in 1965-66, had advanced to the WCHA Final Five four straight years and were in the NCAA tournament the last two. They’ll be part of the new eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013-14. Wisconsin will move to the Big Ten Conference.
UMD placed ninth in the WCHA regular-season standings and Wisconsin tied for fourth. The Badgers were 4-0-1 against UMD this season, and are 6-0 all time at home against UMD in the playoffs (including sweeps in 1978 and 1991).
Wisconsin has had quite a ride in 2012-13, being six games under .500 less than two months into its schedule and since going 18-5-5.
“This is where we wanted to be at the beginning of the season, but the way we did it was quite an accomplishment,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
Center Jefferson Dahl got to a loose puck in the slot 2:48 into the game and fired for his fifth goal of the season. Another loose puck was converged on by about six players in the UMD crease moments later and Wisconsin scoring leader Michael Mersch somehow muscled-in a shot for his 23rd goal of the season at 4:09.
Before Wisconsin had time to celebrate, UMD’s Justin Crandall let loose with a shot that beat sophomore goalie Joel Rumpel. That cut the deficit to 2-1 just 32 seconds after the Mersch score.
The Badgers are the second-best defensive team in the WCHA, allowing just 2.08 goals a game, and theey were unrelenting the rest of the opening period. And when rookie defenseman Kevin Schulze whizzed an attempt from high atop the left circle, for a 3-1 lead at 7:53, Aaron Crandall was replaced. He had allowed just three goals total in his last three starts.
“We knew what was on the line and we made a push. But Wisconsin is one of the better teams in the nation defensively,” said Justin Crandall. “They box you out and they’re physical. It was frustrating. It was tough.”
UMD was solid the last two periods and outshot Wisconsin 20-17 over that stretch, yet Rumpel finished with 29 saves and allowed just two goals on the weekend. Tyler Barnes scored from the crease, all alone, with 9:21 left in the game. Wisconsin led 35-30 in shots on goal.
McNeely was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:28 to play as the Bulldogs forced the issue to the end.
“Wisconsin made it hard to get to the net and we knew that coming in,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “From their red line back, they were tough. We gave them two easy goals and then we didn’t generate a ton on offense.
“We told our guys to get pucks to the net and we just couldn’t do that enough. And it’s a mystery to me how we could get just one (full) power play in the game. Wisconsin was the better team.”
The Bulldogs went 4-2-1 last seven games, while Wisconsin is 7-2 the last nine.
UMD’s seniors in their final game were Keegan Flaherty, Mike Seidel, Dan DeLisle, Jake Hendrickson, Wade Bergman and Olson.
Junior winger Joe Basaraba was back in UMD’s lineup after being sick during the week, while senior captain Cody Danberg was out with an injury after taking a third-period hit Friday.
The Final Five opens with Thursday quarterfinal games at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Minnesota Duluth……………. 1-0-0—1
First period — 1. Wisconsin, Jefferson Dahl 5 (Sean Little, Frankie Simonelli), 2:48; 2. Wisconsin, Michael Mersch 23 (Joseph LaBate, Eddie Witttchow), 4:09; 3. UMD, Justin Crandall 7 (Andy Welinski, Caleb Herbert), 4:41; 4. Wisconsin, Kevin Schulze 4 (Nic Kerdiles, Tyler Barnes), 7:53. Penalties — Austin Farley, UMD (interference0, 13:50.
Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Joe Basaraba, UMD (roughing), 6:30; Brendan Woods, Wisconsin (cross checking), 6:44; Welinski, UMD (roughing), 17:46; Kerdiles, Wisconsin (roughing), 17:46.
Third period — 5. Wisconsin, Barnes 11 (Kerdiles, Mark Zengerle), 10:39. Penalties —Derik Johnson, UMD (slashing), 2:48; LaBate, Wisconsin (roughing), 11:39; J. Crandall, UMD (checking from behind), 13:52; Adam Krause, UMD (double-minor roughing), 16:18; Barnes, Wisconsin (roughing), 16:18.
Shots on goal — UMD 10-11-9—30, Wisconsin 18-8-9—35. Goalies — Aaron Crandall (4-7-2), UMD (6 shots-3 saves); Matt McNeely, UMD (29 shots-28 saves); Joel Rumpel (13-8-4), Wisconsin (30 shots-29 saves). Power plays — UMD 0-of-2, Wisconsin 0-of-5. Referees — Don Adam, Timm Walsh. Linesmen — Dan Carey, Ed Moberg. A — 10,104.